23.7 miles, 382.7 overall (Overmountain shelter)
We are all up early but TW is a little faster and gets out of camp first at precisely 8:00. She hikes very quickly so I doubt I will catch her until she takes a break. I take the time to sign the shelter register before I leave. TP is taking down his tent when I get going.
The first few miles go slowly as I warm up. I pass a couple of day hikers on the way to the first gap. There is a road there but I don’t expect anything since it is early and we are still somewhat close to Erwin. However as I get closer I notice lawn chairs and a man gets out of his car. “Trail magic?” he inquires. “Definitely!” is my response. Mango was a thru-hiker in 2006 and tries to get out to this gap early enough to catch people coming from the last shelter on weekends. He has apparently missed TW and I make sure to remember to rub it in later when I see her. We have been discussing how she should slow down and this is a perfect example of why. I get a soda, a Ding Dong, and some cookies while I talk to Mango. We discuss the AT, the PCT (which he has also hiked parts of), and he asks about my backpack. When I am getting ready to leave TP arrives so I stay a few minutes more before pushing on.
I start to tune out while I hike the next section until I hear voices coming from ahead on the trail. As I get closer I realize they aren’t just voices. They are people making karate noises – “waaaaaaah!” Are there locals out here drinking? It seems a little early for that. When I get closer I realize what it is. The group that pushed on yesterday is camped here. Upon my arrival they explain that they are playing Ninja, which consists of moving one at a time into ninja poses and strategically positioning yourself to slap the other people’s hands. They invite me to join in but I have a lot of miles left so I am mostly satisfied with a picture of their shenanigans. If I run into them again I may join in.
The trail is undulating today, climbing for a few hundred feet and then descending again. I pass the road to Greasy Creek hostel, which I find out later was not a great place to stay. Apparently the owners and the neighbor are feuding and the neighbor starts his lawnmower at 5am every day. This may be related to the reason TW doesn’t want to be alone on this section. Apparently a couple decades ago when the trail was rerouted through this area the land was obtained in a way that made some of the locals angry. According to stories from other hikers for a time it was dangerous to hike through this area. Some talk of fish hooks hanging from trees and things like that. Nowadays the hostility seems to have died down but you can still see evidence of the dislike of the trail in painted over blazes, stolen signs, and other such acts of vandalism. Acts of violence are considered rare now, but hikers still exercise caution in the area just in case. I don’t know for sure, but the Greasy Creek feud may be related. However let me pause here to add that, when asked, no hikers I have talked to have been able to cite examples that have occurred recently (i.e. in the last decade) and all of the locals I have run into have been just as nice here as in previous sections. Apart from a painted over blaze or two (which may or may not be vandalism, it may actually be trail maintenance/re-routing) I haven’t seen any of the problems hikers talk about. I continue to practice the same precautionary measures I do on all parts of the trail – be alert, know approximately where other hikers are, camp in designated areas when possible, and be extra cautious at road crossings.
I stop at the next shelter to get water before going up Roan Mtn. Since my big mileage day I have been hiking in a new “bubble” of hikers and have been meeting new people often. At this shelter I meet Animal. He is trying to do his whole hike on less than $1,000. To do this he has bought cheaper gear but it tends to be more bulky and heavy. As a result he has less space in his pack. To add to this problem he buys his food in bulk – he carries a month’s worth of food at a time. To do this he carries his food in a 5 gallon bucket. Just another example of someone hiking his own hike.
Roan Mtn is the last really difficult climb for quite some time. This year it is somewhat easier because the trail maintainers have rerouted the trail to include switchbacks for a good portion. The first half of the climb is long but well-graded. However the second half is torture. It is one of the steepest climbs, rivaling Jacob’s Ladder. In my mind I wonder if somehow the G at the beginning of the name got dropped off at some point. At the top we are rewarded with no view. I go the few feet off the trail to “tag up” at what, as near as I can tell, is the absolute highest point on the mountain. At least it does smell like Christmas at the top, but I am really tired and I still have 8 miles left to go for the day.
The descent is long and most of the trail is the type of rocky roadway that hikers loathe because of the increased likelihood of ankle injuries. I try to keep my eyes out for the Roan High Knob shelter but miss it because of the focus I am keeping on my foot placements. It is getting late in the afternoon and I still have a few miles left to reach the goal: Overmountain Shelter, an old barn that has been converted into a shelter for hikers and has become an icon of the AT.
At the bottom of Roan there is a road through the gap but no trail magic. I move on to what seemed in the data book to be a few easy hills before the downhill to the shelter. The easy hills actually turn out to be balds that are several hundred feet tall each. Although each has a great view and I stop for some pictures, at this point I am ready for the day to be over. On the downhill I pass Stan Murray shelter but I am not inclined to stop. First, it is less than 2 miles to Overmountain. Second, Master Splinter is one of the hikers staying there and I haven’t heard good things about him. The few minutes I spend there talking to the other hikers confirm the hearsay. Third, TW was at this shelter at 4:30 (she recorded the time in the register) so I know she moved on. After a quick snack I am on my way again.
By the time I reach Overmountain shelter it is around 7:00. The shelter is certainly unique, but I don’t have a lot of time to enjoy it. After I pick out my spot in the loft I start cooking dinner. TP shows up too, also able to do the long miles today. By the time we are done with dinner and ready for bed it is 8:30, past the time I usually am in my sleeping bag. Other hikers are already sleeping, and after a tough day I am jealous of their timing. I joke with TW, “who planned for us to do 23 miles over Roan Mtn?” Of course the answer is me. At least tomorrow we have an easier day planned on the Appalachian Trail.